There’ll be a lot going on when next Sunday comes around in Twizel: history, stats, art, music, culture and more.


If you think about it, the opening parade at Aon Maadi Regatta is like a supercharged learning experience.

It’s an Outdoor Ed class with formals thrown in and lots of subjects on the side.

Take geography, for example.

Even the commentators at South Island Secondary Schools were stumped. Opihi College. Where’s that?

The school’s first and only rower, from the school of just under 300 students in Temuka, South Canterbury, sure came out of the blue at Lake Ruataniwha, winning a bronze medal in the Boys Under 16 Single Sculls.

Lachlan Stratford rowed an Under 15 double last season in a Roncalli College uniform thanks to a dispensation from Rowing New Zealand.

This year he’s going it alone and will be representing Opihi College when he joins the Maadi whanau on parade day.

“It's a pretty special occasion,” says Lachlan’s dad, Mark. “Opihi College has never had a rower before and he will certainly be wearing his uniform with pride.  We know the whole school and community are definitely behind him."

The colours are the traditional black and white of the Temuka district with the blue of the Opihi River running through it.

The season has been a total immersion into rowing for the whole family. They’ve been welcomed at the Twizel Rowing Club and twice a week they’ve been driving Lachlan the four-hour round trip to Lake Ruataniwha to link up with coaches Kelvin Maker and Sarah Henderson.

On Friday nights they stay over for a double session on Saturday. Other times they do the 45-minute run to Lake Opuha, near Fairlie, with Lachlan’s new boat in tow.

Lachlan pledged to pay 20% of the cost for a new boat, likewise for a new set of blades, with money earned from his after school job.


Opihi Colleges' only rower competing at Aon Maadi Regatta - Lachlan Stratford. Lachlan is  competing in the Boys U16 single sculls at Aon Maadi Regatta.

The inaugural recipient of Aon’s Emerging Schools Scholarship will be at a Ruataniwha Maadi for the very first time.

Taupo-nui-a-Tia College received $5,000 towards their programme, enabling them to buy a new set of sculling blades and some speed coaches. These have been a huge boost to the three athletes they have travelling to Twizel; Adah Williams, Harry Febery and Oscar Strik.

Adah won the B Final of the Girls Under 16 Single Sculls at NISS, Harry the B Final of the Boys U18 Single.

Adah Williams from Taupo-nui-a-Tia College racing in the B Final of the Girls Under 16 Single Sculls at Aon North Island Rowing Championships

Adah Williams from Taupo-nui-a Tia College racing in the B Final of the Girls' U16 Single Sculls at Aon North Island Secondary School Championships. Photo: Picture Show Ltd 

“We had so much interest, enthusiasm and support from the community from receiving the scholarship,” says the college’s sports co-ordinator Erica Strik. “It gave us a little bit of time in the sun, shall we say, so that has been really exciting. I think people are on the journey with us and we've grown our number from eight to 13 this year, so that's a real success story.”

One of the goals in Taupo-nui-a-Tia's scholarship submission was to enter a quad at NISS this year. Tick.

The other was to get an eight racing, for Maadi 2025.

“I thought we nearly had it this year [at NISS],” says Erica. “It was just, we don't have an eight to row in, so they hadn't got it together really.”

Plenty of time.

Adah’s brother Joe Williams, rows out of Tauhara College, also in Taupo. Like Lachlan Stratford, he’ll be his school’s only athlete in Ruataniwha. Verdon College, Whangarei Boys’ High, Rototuna High and Aotea College are so far the only other schools with just one competitor.

Joe Williams from Tauhara College will be racing in the U17 Boy's Single Sculls and is the only rower from his school competing at Maadi


The Taupo boats are going on Rotorua Rowing Club’s trailer down to Ruataniwha. Fifteen athletes from three schools will be travelling down, four each from Rotorua Lakes High and Rotorua Girls and seven from John Paul College.

Rotorua coach Alastair Riddle will oversee the schools’ week in Twizel. Nothing about sending the kids to Maadi is taken for granted.

For Alastair, the cost of getting that many kids south works out to be about two brand new boats. It’s a huge commitment for their community and a test of the kids’ determination.

“Maadi is character building,” says Alastair. “Part of the character-building thing is the fundraising and extra work they've got to do 24 months before they go. I think that's an important part of the experience.”

Recently, the kids have had an extra bit of inspiration from former Lakes High rower Tegan Fookes, who’s now in her final year at University of Central Florida on a rowing scholarship.

“She's dropped in to see us and had some rows with us the last two summers when she's been back home for a brief time. It’s nice, good for the [kids] to see what's possible. It sort of instils belief.”

Tegan Fookes may even have fuelled a bit of extra belief in one of the John Paul athletes.

Tegan Negus is currently ranked 5th in the North Island in the Girls U18 Single.

It’s easy to forget that Maadi Regatta couldn’t happen without the backing of so many clubs around the country.

Take Clifton Rowing Club for example. Most of their younger athletes row primarily for the club then break into school crews for the final part of the season.

Gus Berghan is the heart and soul of Taranaki rowing. Clifton President, fundraiser, coach and much more. He’s been there since 2002 and started pushing to get more kids from schools in the region involved straight away.

Gus is a science and agriculture teacher at Waitara High, and admits to being “gutted” he hasn’t got a couple of kids from his school there this time. It also means he won’t be at Maadi, but he’s working on both those conundrums for next year.

He’s getting the family in on the recruitment drive, quietly hoping his daughter Rose, a rower herself, and PE teacher at New Plymouth Boys’ High, can help really revive their programme.

NPBHS will be one of four local schools travelling to Twizel, along with Sacred Heart Girls’ College, New Plymouth Girls’ High and Francis Douglas Memorial College.

Nearly 20 kids in total, who’ve already done Clifton proud, hoping to do the same for their schools.

“It’s a different pride they’re standing for,” says Gus. “I know there's a lot riding on their success and I like to see their success within the school so that it attracts more and more people to come out and try it.”

Just this week, two of the Sacred Heart girls were recognised at school for winning gold in the U18 Novice Double at NISS.

Scared heart

Bella Neale and Olivia Perry from Sacred Heart Girl's -  New Plymouth won the Girls U18 Novice event at Aon North Island Secondary Schools Championships. Photo: Picture Show Ltd. 

“They had an assembly the other day and the cup was sort of presented to them by the school. So that sort of promotion for it is brilliant,” says Gus.

“One of the things I really love about it is when parents after a couple of months come to me and say, ‘You know, I've got a different boy or my daughter's a totally different person. They're organised, they're eating, they're sleeping, they're not on their phones all the time. All they do is watch rowing videos and talk about rowing!’”

Total education.


Andy Hay

Andy Hay is a freelance producer, writer and rowing coach. He was cox of the world champion New Zealand eight of 1982 and '83. He is NZ Olympian #446. Got a story?